Exercise and me

I have never been that into exercise. I know it is important but events have put me off. I was also not very good at team sports at school. I scored an own goal in hockey when I forgot we had swapped sides at half-time. I ran into the wall as I was concentrating on my dribble in basketball, although I liked shooting and had a ring at home. At school the only sport I was good at was gymnastics. I loved to cartwheel and did them every chance I could. I used our bunk bed as monkey bars and enjoyed bouncing on a trampoline. 

But when I was twelve I had an accident at school. I was doing a cartwheel on a bench and I lost the hand hold, both knees slammed onto the bench…I remember a lot of pain. I was off school and had physiotherapy but I was always in pain after that. 

I thought I was being weak, unable to ‘push through the pain’ as PE teachers say. Yet this was not exercise pain but real pain. I had to stop regularly. I remember sobbing as I did cross-country as every step was sending a sharp shooting pain through my knees. Yet the teachers told me to keep going. No surprise that I disliked PE lessons by this point.

At 23 years old I could barely climb a flight of stairs. I finally got a doctor to take me seriously and was referred to rheumatology. Fibromyalgia was my diagnosis after some tests and a detailed medical history. I started the medication…but my knees still hurt.

I went back to the doctors and pleaded with them. I knew this pain in my knees was not the fibromyalgia but I needed proof. Finally they sent me for an MRI and found out my knee caps were not in the groove they are meant to sit in when they move.

In the space of a couple of years I ended up with keyhole surgery on each knee to solve the issue. Now things are so much better. It is amazing the difference it has made. But my relationship with exercise has been harmed so much.

Surgeons still tell me not to run as I have reduced cartilage in my knees. I have tried the gym a few times but find it boring and I feel too conspicuous. This raises my anxiety.

However I have found an exercise I like and will do regularly, dog walking. Now I have Toby I go walking a few times a week for 40 minutes or longer at a time. I love to be in nature and he is the perfect excuse as he loves it too. We take off to our favourite places and soak in the forest bathing, sunshine and green. We listen to the birds chirp and let the wind blow out the cobwebs. It is a pleasure and a joy.

I do not think I will ever be a gym goer or a runner or be on any sports teams. However finding an exercise I can do that benefits my physical and mental health has been key to me feeling better in this mental world.

A Dog’s life

I wonder what it would be like to be a dog for a day. I look at my Toby and think about how simple his life is. His needs are simple; food, walks, water, cuddles and sleep. I like to see him take pleasure in the little things, like a sock he has stolen from my radiator. He looks so peaceful when he sleeps.

Of course I would not want to have to pee outside but then he doesn’t even have to clear it up. No shoes might be an issue, especially in the cold. Yet a constant fur coat seems quite nice.

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When I take him for walks he loves to run, just to run. A pleasure I will never understand and yet love to watch. He enjoys to chase tennis balls and toys that I throw for him. Most of all he loves to cuddle up and he gives out so much love.

A human life is so complicated and we are distracted by so much. Things we need in our world; money, jobs, bills, entertainment, media, and so much more. What if we could make life a little more simple and take joy in the little things.

I try to take joy in Toby’s cuddles, laugh at his silly ways and enjoy our walks somewhere green. I smile as his dreams, his little paws moving in his sleep. I laugh as he begs for a biscuit or my pizza crusts and run off to eat it like great treasure.

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Life is complicated and we have to work and pay the bills. However we also need to find joy. Not in things but in what really matters to each of us. For me it is Toby, my friends, my nieces, my nephew, nature, travel and in teaching.

Learning what is really important to me has been hard and I have to remind myself. It is so easy to get carried away in the madness of this mental world.

Life is exhausting, each and every day

Life is exhausting! Getting up each day and living is very tiring. Having depression and fibromyalgia makes my body ache and feel so very heavy. Weighted down by feelings of numbness and sadness.

Sleeping through my seven alarms, I scramble out of bed. I take my pills and brush my teeth. Brushing my hair seems like a marathon of effort, mile after mile of strokes until it is up and out-of-the-way. Dragging any clothes I can find, onto my limbs. Choosing what is comfortable, closest and clean.

I feed the bunnies and the puppy, as the kettle boils to make tea. A travel mug and breakfast bar in hand, I head out to the car. The door slams and I feel my world get small, Volkswagen Polo sized. With the radio on I navigate the traffic, focused on everyone’s moves as the world swirls around me.

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I park at school and get through the day. I travel back in time as I teach, jumping from Norman England, to Nazi Germany, to Tudor Britain and to many more. Grounded with my feet in what I know, the past. The day ticks on and my mind pushes everything else away. In some moments I even feel echoes of my passion for teaching. That feeling which seems to escape me most of the time, it feels like a reminder of a long-lost friend.

The students leave and I feel as empty as my classroom. My mind fills with clutter, memories of laughter float around. I am back in the car and fighting rush hour traffic wanting to be at home. Encapsulated in my car I listen to soothing music as I breathe my way home, in…out…right…left…home.

Greeted by an excited puppy, I can’t help but smile. He races upstairs, with energy I wish I could steal. Behind him, I drag my feet up each mountainous step. Stripping off my hard protective shell of the day I can climb into my safe pyjamas. The kettle goes on to feed the tiredness that is growing.

The sofa envelopes me as the tv noise fills the space in my head. The sounds push any negative thoughts aside, for now. My puppy curls up on my lap, giving me all the warmth and love he can. I wish for the simplicity of his life, the peaceful day of  sleep with food and drinks provided.

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I look at the kitchen as if it might spontaneously produce a dinner. Preparing my meal for one feels like making a banquet for a King. I need the energy to breathe but I know I need to eat. A sandwich, toast, ready meals or maybe I will just order in. Someone else can make the effort while I use up my reserves just making it up the stairs.

I climb into bed as early as possible, beneath the duvet I feel warm and safe. Camomile tea and an interesting novel to calm my mind. Meditation, mindfulness or just music to sleep by. I hope tonight sleep will be easy to find. I hope it will replenish the fatigue and exhaustion of my life in this mental world.

How do you let go of guilt and anxiety?

I saw the GP today. They have increased my anti-depressants and signed me off work for two weeks. The result is Guilt and Anxiety. The tortoise and hare are off the starting line.

The Hare (anxiety with a guilt backpack) starts to tell me I am not enough. I am letting down the students, the other teachers in my department and my bosses. It tells me I should be able to deal with all this while going to work each day. I worry about being judged by others. The panic causes me to breathe faster and my heart jumps about in my chest. My mind hurts as thoughts race around my brain, making me feel dizzy.

Many people will be judging me. Thinking I should be at school as I am not physically sick. I am not glued to the toilet, in hospital or unable to move. That doesn’t mean I do not have some physical symptoms: I am exhausted, having headaches, feel dizzy, nauseous and my whole body feels heavy. Yet I don’t feel it is enough for people to justify me being off. I feel they will judge me. Worse than that, I am judging me.

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My tortoise (logical brain) tries to reason with the hare. It explains that mental illnesses are equivalent of physical. That I am justified in my feelings and just like I could not cure my own physical illnesses, I need help and support to get better. My desperate despair will take time to get over and it is exhausting to do it. But they feel like clichés, slogans and advice I give others.

Am I letting anyone down? It is hard at school to find cover and make it meaningful. Will students miss out on having me as they will have a cover teacher instead. But sometimes our own health has to come first and I will help them as soon as I am back. How much use would I be in this state of mind? I am finding it hard to concentrate and it would be impossible to pretend to be ok for 5 hours a day in front of the children.

So, I need to show myself some compassion and let it go. I need to look after me and let the guilt go. But it is so much easier to say it. How do you let it all go? Reminding myself over and over. Will my mind just finally click into understanding?

I have learnt to be more compassionate to myself in the last couple of years. I now allow myself time to rest and recoup. I give myself time to look after my mind through meditating and reading. I adopted my lovely puppy, Toby, and I go for forest bathing walks. I have stepped away from toxic family members and that was not easy. So maybe this compassion about being off work will come too.

Maybe I just need to breathe, to give myself time and be patient with my life in this mental world.

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The Labyrinth of my Mind

Depression is a macaber beast. It is the Minaaur waiting in the labyrinth of my mind. Depression has been in my life again since September, maybe earlier. It is exhuating to live each day with a weight pulling you down.

This weekend the noise my depression seems to have been turned up to LOUD. I am not and have never been suicidal but I do have to listen to my brains arguments that I would be best dead. It is telling me that life is too hard as it is.

It is so loud that I have been unable to read, to focus, or to sleep properly. I have been drinking tea, eating too much junk and watching mindless TV. I intend to see my GP Monday when appointments resume.

I did get dressed and go for a walk with my puppy. I sat under a Yew tree and meditated. I listened to the trees and wind around me. I looked up at the blue sky and felt the breeze on my face. I hoped forest bathing would clense my soul and clear my mind. As I sat I found a bud, showing that Spring is on it’s way.

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Toby enjoying his walk at the National Trust in Runnymede.

It is hard to ignore the voice of depression but each day I will try. That is all I can promise to anyone. I do feel I am falling through an abyss, trying to crawl out grabbing any hand I can find to steady my way. Each hand I grab is slippery and I drop further down. I imagine that scene in the Labyrinth, Sarah taking the wrong door and falling through a tunnel of hands.

Image from the Huffington Post

Nature was a hand that pulled me up a little. I found hope in that bud of new Yew tree growth. These voices will quieten and I will feel more myself again. I cannot say when things will change but I have to believe it will.

“Through dangers untold and hardships unnumbered I have fought my way here to the castle beyond the Goblin City to take back the child you have stolen, for my will is as strong as yours and my kingdon as great. You have no power over me.” Jim Henson Quote from the film Labyrinth

I wish one line would destroy the world of depression, like the scene when Sarah says this quote in Labyrinth. But I keep reminding myself that I am strong and I will get through this. One day, hopefully soon, depression will have no power over me.

But today this is not the case, for now depression is in my life in this mental world.